This understanding is critically important for a lot of reasons. Let’s start with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Sportsmen have been completely unsuccessful in winning public funding for this agency, which struggles to perform its mission of protecting and enhancing our wildlife and fisheries and the habitat they depend upon — a mission that certainly serves all of the people of this state.

Until the public speaks up — forcefully — to demand that its legislators and governor provide some of their tax money to this department, it won’t happen. As usual, several attempts to win public funding for DIF&W failed this legislation session.

That’s not surprising, either. The number of hunters and anglers who serve in the Legislature seems to diminish every session. And for the first time in history, the Legislature’s Fish and Wildlife Committee has more than one member who doesn’t hunt or fish. And far fewer legislators sought to serve on that committee this session than once did.

Since leaving my position as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine on June 30, 2010, I’ve been surprised by the criticism of some sportsmen that I am now associating and working with environmental groups. They must not have been paying attention.

In 1993, my first year as SAM’s executive director, the state’s primary environmental newspaper, the Maine Times, put a photo of me and my hunting dog on the cover (the first and only time that paper had a guy holding a gun on its cover) with a headline, “Declaring peace: The gun and hunting lobby is now talking about habitat protection.” The inside headline read, “An old adversarial relationship between hunters and environmentalists may finally dissolve.”

Throughout my 18 years at SAM, I worked hard to forge partnerships with environmental groups. Frankly, sportsmen need their help and support. It should not have been missed that the last serious effort to secure public money for DIF&W — in a constitutional amendment directing a portion of the sales tax to the agency — was led by Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine in 2011.

And there’s another critical element here: private landowners. Maine sportsmen are blessed by the tradition of free, unfettered access to private land. We don’t have a lot of public land available to us, as sportsmen do in other states, so we do a lot of our hunting on private land, and access many of our waters by crossing private land. Indeed, we have no rights of access to moving water — our brooks, streams, and rivers.

But we have no significant and effective landowner relations program at DIF&W, and too many sportsmen fail to recognize the importance of asking for permission to use private land and building positive relationships with those who own the land we recreate on. The relationship between sportsmen and landowners is often contentious, and more land is posted every year.

More bad news arrived recently when the Humane Society of the United States announced its intention to place another initiative on the Maine ballot in 2014 to stop bear trapping and bear hunting over bait and with hounds.

This will be a rerun of the 2004 bear referendum. I raised $1.5 million to defend bear hunting that year and my sister Edie Smith managed the campaign. We won, but just barely, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Over the last 10 years, public support for our hunting heritage and methods of hunting have eroded, and I worry that this time, the Humane Society may win, shutting down yet another key element of our outdoor economy, sending sportsmen into a tailspin and making it impossible for DIF&W to manage bears.

While some of my friends have an attitude of “Bring it on; we’ll beat them again,” I fear we are overconfident, ill-prepared and lacking the funding to defend bear hunting and trapping.

For sure, we’ll need the support of Maine’s environmental community and landowners — making those relationships all the more important.


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